There is a maxim that I personally apply to all of my work and business endeavors. That which you track grows. This principle can be used to help with just about anything you want to see grow in your business – profits, billable hours, number of hours worked, number of new customers, number of social media likes or fans, etc. For this article, however, I’m going to narrow it down to one thing that we all wish we had a better handle on – time.
The basic reasoning behind this is pretty simple. If you are tracking how your time is being spent, you can effectively manage it better. If you are managing your time better, you can get more things done with less wasted time. Time tracking allows you to discover things about your business you may have overlooked, such as:
- The actual time it takes you or a team member to do something. (Are you billing effectively? Are you over scheduling?)
- Areas where tasks can be reworked to provide a better return on your time. (Based on previous time tracking data, will this task increase your overall business vision?)
- The amount of time spent on projects that are of no value. (Are there activities you are doing that are losing you money?)
Now, the concept of time tracking may sound easy enough on paper, but what about actually “tracking” your time? Self-employed individuals are busy people, and no one wants to add another task to their already packed schedules. Well, there are a few ways to go about it.
The most important thing is that you need to find a method that you will actually USE. There’s no point setting up a system that doesn’t fit your workflow. That goes for any employees as well. You may find that what works for you may not be intuitive for their workflow. You’ll need to work together to find solutions that benefit you both. Some common ways to track time include:
Set a Timer
When you start a new task, start a timer to help keep track of your time. You can use a stopwatch or one of many apps available for your smartphone or computer. (I’ve included some app recommendations later in this article.)
Write it Down
Take note of when you start a task and when you finish in a small notebook or pad of paper. Really, any paper will do as long as you remember to record the time and don’t lose it later. Personally, I’ll use a sticky note per project I’m working on and then record the time later in my project management software.
Work In Timed Blocks
If it is difficult for you to remember to start a timer or write down your start and stop times, try arranging your work in set blocks of time. For instance, if you know you are working on a project, set the next thirty minutes to an hour to work solely on that particular project. Then write it down or keep track of that time on your calendar.
Use Other Apps (The Backup Plan)
When you’re in the flow of working, you’re not always going to remember when you started something. When this happens to me, I use other apps or clues to give me a ballpark idea of when I started a task. For instance, Skype, text messages and email are all time stamped. I can go back and see if I engaged in any of these to help give me some idea of the time I spent. If you use your cell phone to make calls, your phone should track how long your calls are.
Once you’ve picked a method of tracking, you’ll need to focus on what to track.
You could spend all your free time tracking every minute of your day, but that would defeat the purpose of this activity. Your goal is to find areas where you can boost productivity and to make sure you’re accurately scheduling your work responsibilities. The best way to know what to track is to uncover your reasonings for tracking your time in the first place.
For me, I do it with a few goals in mind.
1) To know accurately how long it takes me to do something, so I can make sure I don’t over or under schedule myself. Also, so I’m not taking on commitments I can’t actually handle.
2) For billing purposes. I need to know how much time I’m spending so I can bill clients properly.
3) To increase productivity. Time tracking lets you see where you may be spending too much time doing a certain task that could be outsourced, automated or even done away with completely. It also lets you see what types of tasks could be grouped together to save more time. For instance, if you manage multiple social media accounts, it makes sense to do all of them in one time block instead of breaking them up into different days. I personally try to group similar tasks together on a given day, so that I can save time without having to shift mental gears to do something completely different.
Once you know why you want to track, you can start looking at what to track.
Do you want to know how much time you are spending on each client? Track your work that deals with clients. If you want to see how much time is being wasted in a day, don't track the wasted time, track the time you are actually doing something important. What’s left over is your wasted time. Maybe you want to see how much of each type of work you are doing. Separate your tasks into categories and keep track of the time spent on each type of task, such as marketing, product development and admin.
The bottom line – track what you think is important. If you’re not seeing any patterns or ways you can change things up, try tracking something else until you do.
Well, one thing is for sure – hours don't lie. Analyze what's going on with your time and if you don't like what you see, set up a course of action to fix it. If you don't know whether a task is beneficial or not, (for instance, how much time is being spent on a project) use your stats as a guideline for your next project. See if you can improve any area and then use any future improved stats as your new guideline.
If you’re ready to get started, here are some time tracking apps that may work for you.
Chrometa – This program records how much time you are spending in each program. No timers or notes needed. Just check the app to see what you were doing on each app and how long it took. They even have an iPhone and Android app to help track your time on the go as well.
Klok – This app provides a visual representation of how your time is being spent with colored blocks. A big benefit of this app is that it allows you to track your time spent on a task within the program. Just click on the task you are working on and select “work on.” The app will keep track of your time and add the data to your work week automatically.
Office Time – An all-in-one office time management suite, Office Time lets you keep your time management tasks all in one place. An easy stop and start button lets you track your time, while an inactivity sensor picks up when you may have had to stop to take a phone call or got distracted. In addition, this app works with iCal. This program is currently available for the Mac, PC or iPhone/iPad.
Toggl – This is a super simple app that can be used across devices and with multiple team members. It even works with some of the more popular project management and accounting software such as Basecamp and Fresh Books.